It feels like a lifetime since fans got a proper Kirby game appeared on a home Nintendo console, as Hal Laboratories has largely confined their pinkish hero to the format that beget him – portables. While we’ve been teased a new adventure since the Gamecube days, much of our Kirby-fix has come from the touchscreen experiments on the aging DS, most recently the excellent Kirby Mass Attack. As colorful and sensory-exploding as Epic Yarn was, beautiful graphics and zero-challenge do not a great Kirby game make. As we bared witness to the squishy puffball being transformed into stringy yarn and then split into micro-manageable copies of himself, its Kirby’s Return to Dreamland on the Wii that finally fulfills the promise of traditional side-scrolling action long absent in a Kirby game, let alone console games in general.
The premise borrows heavily from Nintendo’s Super Mario Galaxy series as an intergalactic starship falls from the sky and crashes on Planet Popstar, leading our decent-minded heroes to help the shipwrecked pilot rebuild his vessel and ultimately save the day. With bright, colorful visuals that are straight out of Super Smash Bros. complimented by a joyous soundtrack (that sounds orchestrated), the game may not break any ground from a technological standpoint – indeed, it’s probably one of the Wii’s swansongs – but it’s a sugary-sweet experience that runs perfectly and exudes happiness at every level. Beyond a few next-generation flourishes, this is a genuine Kirby game through and through.
Side-scrolling jumping and the ability to inhale an assortment of enemies in order to change form(s) and gain their powers once again makes up the primary mechanics and still doesn’t disappoint after all this time, with copy abilities that range from Zelda-inspired swordplay skills, static-inducing electric powers, to the adorably useless sleep powers. And like games before this every skill brings something unique and contextual to the table, and in an effort throw a proverbial kitchen sink into the mix you’ll be able to absorb hyper abilities that decimate anything in psychedelic, screen-filling glorious fashion; it’s borderline ridiculous but welcome all the same.
Playing solo through the campaign is pretty much standard platform fare, as the game progressively adds newer and more challenging tasks to your queue, such as collecting the 120 energy cogs while gradually unlocking new minigames to enjoy. But the real bread and butter – borrowing from New Super Mario Bros. Wii – is the new multiplayer option that lets up to three friends join in or drop out of the adventure with the simple press of a button, anytime, anywhere. This doesn’t so much enhance the gameplay as make it considerably more frantic, and is a huge step forward in the right direction as far as co-op in a platformer is concerned. Each extra participant (King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Waddle Dee) comes with their own abilities, but make sure the people you’re playing with are at least competent at side-scrolling platform games. You’ll share lives and even one person dies, the entire group suffers.
Indeed, death sends everybody back to the checkpoint when the weakest link breaks; my only advice is to make sure your allies aren’t prone to the numerous pitfalls laid throughout Dreamland.
It may have taken Hal Laboratory eons to produce a proper side-scrolling Kirby game for a Nintendo home console, but that’s exactly what Kirby’s Return to Dreamland provides. It’s core gameplay mechanics are handled perfectly, and the addition of letting up to three players drop in/out at any time is the best co-op I’ve ever experienced in a platformer (sorry Mario). True, its often sugary-sweet atmosphere and initial difficulty curve (or lack-thereof) may dissuade some of the more cynical types from giving it an honest chance, but Return to Dreamland delivers the goods in a deceptively cheerful package that stays true to its classic roots while allowing a new generation of potential fans join the fun. With Mass Attack and now this, Hal has given both DS and Wii fans of the transforming pink blob a proper send-off worth exploring.
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